Portland firefighters appeal sanctions from fire boat accident

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PORTLAND — The union representing more than 200 Portland firefighters has filed a grievance in response to the punishment of two firefighters after the city’s fire boat was damaged.

The filing means it will take several months – perhaps a year – for a full report on the Oct. 15 incident to become available.

The city’s $3.2 million fire boat, City of Portland MV IV, sustained $54,000 worth of damage on Oct. 15 when it stuck an underwater object near Fort Gorges in Casco Bay. 

Although the city maintained the boat was being used for training exercises at 6 p.m. on that Saturday, an investigation concluded there were 12 civilians on board, including relatives and friends of the firefighters.

Following the incident, Capt. Christopher Goodall and firefighter Joseph Murphy were suspended without pay for 10 days and five days, respectively.

City Hall spokeswoman Nicole Clegg on Monday said the union, International Association of Fire Fighters Local 740, has notified the city it is appealing the punishments of the firefighters – a move that will keep official details of the incident unavailable to the public until the grievance is resolved.

Clegg could not provide further detail about the appeal, since it’s a personnel issue. Union representatives could not be reached for comment.

But Clegg said the grievance procedure typically starts with a department-level meeting. If a solution is not reached, it may be appealed to the Human Resources Department and then to the city manager. If the sides fail to agree there, the dispute could go to mediation.

City attorneys have said a report about the incident could not be released until the personnel issue is resolved. If appealed, attorneys said it could be months, perhaps a year, before the report is made public.

The incident – the second in as many years – brought to light the lack of a Fire Department policy regarding fire boat use.

The city has since tightened that policy to prohibit civilians from being on board. Also, crews must now keep a detailed log of who is aboard the boat, and the city manager must sign off on all non-emergency use of the vessel, such as transporting employees to work on the islands.

Meanwhile, the fire boat returned to service Nov. 22. Clegg said the three-week repair job performed in Rockland is expected to cost $54,000 – well above the initial estimate of $38,000.

The city must pay a $25,000 deductible for the repair, she said.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @randybillings

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